During the first years that I lived in Sydney, Australia, related Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ע“ה , I was contacted by the Jewish community in Adelaide. The ימים נוראים were coming closer, and their shul had no Rabbi. The Chief Rabbi of Sydney had sent them to me, but I was not happy about leaving my wife and four young children alone for the ימים טובים .
The Shul committee asked the Chief Rabbi what to do. “Listen," he told them, "Rabbi Gutnick is a Lubavitcher. Write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that you need a Rabbi for the ימים נוראים . If the Rebbe tells Rabbi Gutnick to go, he will."
I soon received a special delivery letter from the Rebbe, expressing surprise that I did not agree, and advising me to spend the ימים נוראים in Adelaide. At the bottom of the letter, the Rebbe added, 'While in Adelaide, concern yourself with the needs of Egyptian Jews living there.'
I arrived in Adelaide the day before ראש השנה and went to the shul. As I was looking around, a woman entered and asked me, 'Where is the most holy part of the synagogue?' I was surprised by her question. I pointed to the ארון הקודש .
Before I could say another word, she rushed out, led a blind teenage girl straight to the ארון הקודש , and then left. The girl kissed the curtains of the ארון and burst out in tears. She remained there for several minutes; after which the woman came back and escorted her out.
I described the entire puzzling scene to the shul secretary. ‘Don't give it another thought,' the secretary said. ‘She's one of the Egyptians. They don't get along with our community. Her parents don't even come to shul on ראש השנה , so she probably decided to visit before the יום טוב .'
I tried to ignore what the secretary said. All I could think of was the Rebbe's words 'concern yourself with the Egyptian Jews.' I rushed out to find the girl, but she had disappeared.
On ראש השנה , I felt the unfriendliness between the local community and the Egyptian Jews. I tried to talk to some Egyptian Jews, and asked about the blind girl.
After the יום טוב , she tried to contact me. The phone in my room rang. 'Hello, I'm Betty, the blind girl.' But a sudden click meant that someone didn’t want her to talk to me.
On the night before יום כיפור , I was finally able to get her address and phone number. My calls were unsuccessful, for as soon as I said my name, the line went dead. I would not give up. Despite the late hour, I took a taxi to her home. Her family was reluctant to allow me in. 'Please,' I said, 'I have traveled a great distance, and I would like to speak with you.'
The door opened, and I was invited to enter. Slowly, they began talking to me. After a while, the rest of the family left, and I gently asked Betty to tell me what was troubling her. In an emotional tone, she told her story:
“‘My family arrived in Australia last year. They sent me to the only school in this city for the blind, a Catholic school. The people in the school are very nice, and my parents were pleased, because I had been given a full scholarship. After five months, the local priest began talking to me about Christianity. I ignored him until he told me bluntly that I must convert. At the same time, my parents received a letter from the school: Due to lack of space in our school, we are forced to turn away even students of our own faith. We will agree to provide free schooling for your daughter only if she converts to Christianity.
“‘One day, I overheard my nervous parents discuss the issue. They were prepared to accept that I would have to convert.’
“‘Although I know very little about our religion, I know that I am Jewish. I know that there is a G-d and I decided to pray to Him for help. I also knew that the Jewish holy days were approaching. On the day before ראש השנה , I told my mother that I did not feel well and could not go to school. When I was alone in the house, I knocked on the door of my non-Jewish neighbor.
“‘Tomorrow is the Jewish New Year,' I told her. ‘My parents do not attend the synagogue so I would like to ask you a favor. Please take me to the synagogue today so I can pray. I will only stay for a few minutes.' My neighbor agreed. In the synagogue, I cried and prayed to G-d to give me a sign. I returned home and waited.
“‘Guests joined us for the יום טוב dinner. One of them laughed at me: 'Betty! What have you been up to lately? A Rabbi from Sydney came to Adelaide and he is asking about you. How do you know him?'
I knew this was a sign from G-d to me. I tried to call you, but my mother didn't allow it. She was afraid that you would convince me not to convert and that I would have to leave school. But somehow, I knew that you would help me.'
The girl's parents then came in and tearfully and told me, 'We really don't want her to convert, but we have no choice. We are concerned about her welfare.' I promised to do my best to help them.
The Rebbe's words echoed in my ears as I thought about what to do. I phoned the secretary of the Jewish community, told him the story, and asked him to come immediately.
He was obviously shocked by my request. ”Have you gone mad?" he gasped. "It's half past midnight!"
"If you want a Rabbi for יום כיפור , come here now," I told him. "Come in your pajamas if you must, but come."
He arrived in twenty minutes. I told him that the community must accept the responsibility to pay the girl's tuition so that she would not be forced to convert. He agreed.
The girl continued writing to me over the years. She graduated high school with honors, went on to study in ירושלים , married, and now leads a good frum life in ארץ ישראל ."